It's in the details left out and the victims who never had their stories told.
It exists in the long-held biases, invisible but just under the surface.
Structural racism in modern media is pernicious, and resolving it will require honest discussions, a more diverse workforce, and a confrontation of its roots in an ugly and discriminatory history.
That was the message from the panelists in the latest installment of "We Need to Talk," a seven-part series at UNLV exploring what drives racist behavior and how those beliefs permeate society. The series is live-streamed by UNLV TV and moderated by Claytee White, director of the UNLV Oral History Research Center.
In "Episode 3: We Need to Talk About Communication," members of the UNLV community and local media discussed how biases affect newsrooms and the communities they cover.
The impact of those perceptions can stretch beyond which stories are told, affecting which voices are elevated in media, whether intentional or not.
The panelists also discussed efforts to combat those influences and how the media can work to get the story right, from obtaining multiple viewpoints to dedicating themselves to truth-telling.
Tzun, whose family moved to Canada from Hong Kong, described how new immigrants often first see depictions of Black people as criminals or victims of police abuse. Such images can send the message to immigrants that Black people or other communities of color should be avoided to keep away from violence, she said.
"The root of western media is white supremacy and that's where implicit bias stems from," Tzun said. "It's the idea of the racial stereotypes that are repeated, time and time again through the decades, shown on the television of Black people depicting stereotypes that are perpetuated by the white community."
Ricardo Torres-Cortez, a reporter at the Las Vegas Sun and Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies alumnus, noted that news media organizations, too, have played a role in perpetuating such biases. The language used to depict communities of color in even major news institutions like "The New York Times" was sometimes far from inclusive in the past.
"You see some of this racist language, and you're supposed to depend on these places to educate you. And they just weren't at the time doing that," he said.
In the present, journalists may occasionally struggle with a busy news cycle and lack of resources, requiring them to jump from one story to another, Torres-Cortez said.
Such circumstances aren’t ideal to produce the type of in-depth reporting that might reduce racial stigmas or question official narratives.
Tzun and producer Oja Vincent co-founded a multimedia documentary project in 2009 to combat this reality. The Forced Trajectory Project provides as a media and advocacy team for those affected by police violence. They have focused specifically on the Las Vegas Valley since 2016. The project features the stories of individuals killed by police, their families and the communities that feel the impact of those deaths.
"The fact that their loved one has been killed by an agent of the state really creates numerous barriers to justice for them," Tzun said.
Those barriers are amplified in part by the fact that many stories exclude victim and family narratives or simply don't get told, she added.
Ashton Ridley, radio manager at KUNV-FM within the school of journalism, said one of the central ways media can move difficult conversations on race forward is by offering a platform.
At KUNV, two shows centered on diversity — one on the student radio side and another on the station's main radio channel — are in the works. Ridley said he believes radio is a useful method for tackling these issues. “Having that connection with that voice that’s coming through, that just takes it to another level,” he said. “And then you might be opened up to have that conversation with your significant other or somebody that’s close to you.”
Ultimately, before a person can begin to target and eliminate the biases they have accumulated over a lifetime, they have to first understand what those biases are, Ridley said.
The communication panel included a pre-recorded discussion between White and communication studies professor Emma Frances Bloomfield, who is co-director of the UNLV Public Communication Initiative.
Through her work researching climate change denial, Bloomfield has developed strategies for tough conversations among people with fundamental disagreements. These tips from Bloomfield can guide productive conversations with friends and family on structural racism and white supremacy:
Enter the conversation like a dialogue. Don't talk down to the other person or be aggressive. Instead, invite them to join a conversation.
Ask questions. Doing so shows you care and offers insight into the other person's thinking.
Find points of common value. This provides a connection on which to base the conversation.<
Tell stories. Systemic racism is such a large topic. Stories can make it easier to connect with the topic.
"I find that when people discount facts like 'climate change is real' or 'systemic racism is real' it's for one of two reasons: One it's an issue of ignorance and a lack of knowledge," Bloomfield said, "but it can also be because they feel threatened."
Asking people questions about their beliefs allows for exploration of why they feel the way they do. These insights can help drive the conversation to resolve differences and open up loved ones to new perspectives.
Three panels in the “We Need to Talk” series remain to be aired Oct. 29, Nov. 12, and Nov. 19. All three will air at 5:30 p.m. and are streamed live in partnership with the students of UNLV-TV.